As we close 2019 and welcome 2020, we reflect on some of the progress that has been made in 2019 with advancing the treatment of malignant mesothelioma. One therapy that has garnered attention is immunotherapy.
Many scientists believe that by unlocking the role of the immune system they will then be able to develop targeted therapy whether they be vaccines to enhance the immune system, or targeted therapies that interfere with the immune system.
There are different types of immunotherapy. Some of the initial clinical trial results have been promising for some and disappointing for others. The initial successes point to a one size does not fit all approach. The response rate for patients involved in some initial clinical trials with immunotherapy has been between 10-20 percent for patients with malignant mesothelioma.
The challenge going forward will be to tease out who the super responders are and tailor the therapy from their response. There are a lot of unknowns with immunotherapy as far as how long the positive response lasts, and the timing of when to use other therapies in the treatment plan, but progress is being realized for some patients.
Clinical Trials take time to go through the different phases of the scientific process. And that means one thing that is required is patience, something that seems almost impossible when you are dealing with an aggressive cancer. To put this in progress in perspective, it was not too many years ago that there was no treatment for malignant mesothelioma.
This past year also saw the approval of NovoTTF-100L, a tumor treating fields delivery system for patients with unresectable, locally advanced, or metastatic malignant pleural mesothelioma. Approved by the FDA, this is only the second therapy that has been approved for malignant mesothelioma, the other being pemetrexed plus cisplatin over 15 years ago.
This therapy has been used successfully for treatment of glioblastomas a tumor of the brain. The initial clinical trial conducted in Europe with patients with malignant mesothelioma showed promising results. Whether those results can be replicated and improved on remains to be seen.
Exposure to asbestos is the cause of approximately 85 percent of all malignant mesothelioma cases. One of the most difficult tasks to accomplish has been the ban of asbestos in the United States. The Alan Reinstein Ban Asbestos Now Act continues to work its way through Congress. Through tireless advocacy, his widow Linda Reinstein and the organization she co-founded, Asbestos Disease Awareness Organization, has been trying to change the law. By banning asbestos in the United States it will lessen the chances of people being exposed to asbestos and then developing malignant mesothelioma.
Make 2020 the year that we all can say asbestos is banned permanently in the United States. Until then, we look forward with optimism for the research scientists and their teams to continue to make progress towards a cure in the upcoming decade. Not all of us have the skills or expertise to be involved in scientific research but there are still ways that all of the members of the mesothelioma community can contribute.